Saturday, July 30, 2011


When Northern Rhodesia became the independent nation of Zambia in 1964, the UNIP (United National Independent Party) government decided to establish a number of new secondary schools throughout the country. They wanted to recruit from other African countries, people with many years of teaching experience in order to fill the vacancies in the new schools. As the Terms and Conditions offered were far better than those of the neighboring countries, there was a great exodus of serving teachers from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Ghana and other African countries to Zambia. There were hundreds of Indian teachers among them.

Joseph and Mathai (not real names) were two Indians, from the state of Kerala, working as teachers in a school in Ethiopia. As there were no other people from Kerala in their school, they were very friendly with each other and did many things together. Their families went together frequently for outings and picnics and entertained each other on Sundays and on special days like Christmas, Easter and Onam. They always consulted with each other on important matters.

Through one of their mutual friends they came to know about the great opportunity in Zambia and that many of their acquaintances from Addis Ababa, Asmara and other towns had already secured jobs in Zambia. Joseph and Mathai felt that this was an opportunity that they should not miss. Accordingly they took the first step of obtaining from friends the address of the Zambian Education Ministry and writing to them for Application Forms. After waiting eagerly for about two weeks, to their great delight they both received by the same day's mail, a set of forms from the Ministry of Education headquarters in Lusaka.

Each application form consisted of four pages. Joseph and Mathai sat together and discussed the manner in which to fill up the form and how to answer the various questions contained in it. Thereafter they departed to their respective homes and embarked on the process of filling up their forms.

Most of the details to be given were simple and straight-forward such as full name, sex, date of birth, educational qualifications, and experience in teaching, so on and so forth. There were also some personal questions such as fluency in English language, speech impediment if any, etc. While Joseph was filling up this part, he suddenly remembered that his friend Mathai had an occasional problem of stammering. He thought it was unlikely that Mathai would indicate it in his application form. Therefore as a truthful and honest person, he thought that at least he should mention it in his own application form, in the best interest of the government of Zambia. So in the space against the question "Have you any speech impediment?" he wrote "I don't have any, but Mathai(full name) has". After completing the rest of the form, he enclosed it in a manila envelope along with other relevant documents, sealed properly and walked the short distance to Mathai's house. Mathai had already completed his form by this time. They went together to the post office in the town, mailed their envelopes and returned home with the satisfaction of a job well done.

A number of days passed. Mathai and Joseph waited eagerly for the return of the "mail boy" (the school worker who used to collect the mail from the post office) each day. Then on a fine day, the long-awaited official envelopes with the superscription "On Zambia Government Service" addressed individually to Joseph and Mathai arrived by the same day's mail. With pounding hearts, they opened their envelopes and studied the contents. Mathai found a letter from the Ministry of Education containing an offer of appointment stipulating the initial salary and other relevant details as well as the name of the officer whom he should contact in case he wanted to accept the offer. In Joseph's envelope, he found a single sheet of paper on which the following sentence was type-written neatly:
"With reference to your application dated.....(date), I regret to inform you that your application for the post of a secondary school teacher has been unsuccessful". Underneath were a signature and the words "Yours faithfully," "for the Permanent Secretary."

Mathai and his family left Ethiopia for Zambia within three month's time. Joseph remained in Ethiopia until the end of his contract and returned to India without leaving any forwarding address. And that was the end of a beautiful friendship.

None of us was aware of this incident until a few months later the matter was disclosed by an official of the Education Ministry to one of the expatriate teachers, during a friendly conversation.